Illegal pot grower faces 10 years in prison, $10M fine

Mexican national pleads guilty in federal court to cultivating marijuana for four months in Sequoia National Park

FRESNO — A Mexican national pleaded guilty in federal court last week to cultivating over 1,000 marijuana plants in Sequoia National Forest.

On June 1, Marco Lizandro Duarte-Beltran, aka Marco Antonio Duarte-Beltran, a 34-year-old undocumented immigrant from Mexico, pleaded guilty to conspiring to manufacture, distribute and possess with intent to distribute marijuana in the U.S. Eastern District Court in Fresno.

According to U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott, Duarte-Beltran cultivated 1,082 marijuana plants in the Millwood Creek area of the Sequoia National Forest for four months. Duarte-Beltran was apprehended at the cultivation site wearing camouflage clothing and was armed with a loaded revolver following a two-month investigation.

The marijuana cultivation operation caused extensive environmental damage: native vegetation and tree limbs had been cut down to make room for the plants; three areas had been terraced for the campsite where Duarte-Beltran resided; water had been diverted from a water source on federal land to irrigate the plants; irrigation tubing, trash, seed trays, seed pots, fertilizers, and pesticides were scattered throughout the grow site. It will cost $12,644 to clean up the area, which Duarte-Beltran has agreed to pay.

This case is the product of an investigation by the U.S. Forest Service. Homeland Security Investigations, the Enforcement and Removal Operations, the Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP), the California National Guard, and the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office assisted in the investigation. Integral Ecology Research Center, a non-profit organization dedicated to the research and conservation of wildlife and their ecosystems, analyzed and documented the environmental damage. Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen A. Escobar is prosecuting the case.

Duarte-Beltran is scheduled for sentencing on Aug. 24. He faces a mandatory minimum term of 10 years in prison, a maximum term of life in prison, and a fine of up to $10 million. The actual sentence, however, will be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables.

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